Monday, December 18, 2006

Book List

We received a request for a book list addition to our blog. The list will be divided into three categories as follows:

Books Both Adria and Garth Read in the Last 1.5 Years:

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
First of all this is a short book, the first 20 pages are the most difficult, but it is EXTREMELY worth the few hours it will take to read the whole thing. Second, If you have ever heard us say that we don't have a TV and if you then wondered why, it is because I read this book in a high school history class and then I read it again this summer, and then Garth read it and it contains the reason we don't have a TV (you'll just have to read it now.) Don't let that be a reason not to read this book, you can still enjoy TV after you read it! However, you may have a slightly different attitude about TV that claims to be "serious" (i.e. "news," and "educational" programming, etc.) Reading this book was like waking up from a coma. I wish I could call Mr. Postman and thank him for his insight but (maybe luckily for him) he passed away (before the Internet explosion).

The preface of this book reads (in part),"In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." It is interesting to read this book in light of the recent push to make entertainment centers not only the center of the home, but pervasive within the home. This point hit home recently as they installed Comcast On-Demand in the apartment that we are staying in this past week. It seems like Comcast is trying to give you absolutely no reason to do anything else but watch TV because you can watch Rocky IV anytime you want.
Technopoly by Neil Postman
We briefly mentioned this book in a previous post in reference to the Cannon Beach July 4th Parade. In this book Postman argues that "the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity." This book changed my perspective on the ability of technology to solve the ills of society.

Gosh, Garth chooses the most abstract, deep parts of the book to share. I can't concisely list all that I found fascinating about this book, but it was unbelievably compelling (and nonfiction!) for one, because it asks why the increasing amount of information of the age has not yet provided the solution to fundamental social problems like poverty, divorce, crime, health care, etc. And also because it explores themes such as, how science has encouraged us to objectify and quantify everything, how technological advances are never neutral, and why people with more "culture" arguably had (as in there hardly are anymore such people) better lives than people with more information. It sounds boring here but it was NOT BORING, and Postman's old fashioned rhetorical style make his premises very convincing, even though his writing has a religious flavor sometimes. Hey, I'm religious too and that doesn't make me a crackpot.
Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley
Speaking of crackpots, Hugh Nibley is without doubt my favorite socio/religious writer ever. He will make you laugh, cry, shudder and lose sleep. He's a brilliant dude, but his best stuff is not stuff that shows off his cum laude-ness. I love his Berkley liberalism especially after living in Hatch territory for a short time. I love his truth-seeking rejection of the things that make Latter-day Saints feel ok about "living in the world but not of the world." I love his no-nonsense, no-excuses reductionist formula for getting into Heaven. So if you want to become Zion, and not just talk about it, I mean if you actually want to go there and fit in there, you will eat this book up, even though it is really long. You will wish it was longer!! I bought it for Garth who wasn't all that excited about it until I sneakily removed all of his other reading material and he just opened it out of boredom. He now says that it will be our standard wedding gift for everyone we know from now on. I'm not much for Nibley on ancient history and Egyptology and stuff like that but I'll read him on Zion any day. Plus I love it because he was never a general authority so he can say what he really thinks and not worry about his reputation, and it also means that just normal gospel doctrine teachers can be truth seekers too.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis
This book examines the success of the Oakland A's and looks that the movement for the increased use of statistics in the evaluation of baseball players. What I found most interesting was to see what type of careers the players mentioned in the book are having.

Moneyball was very entertaining for me, and when I read it I knew almost nothing about baseball. But it turns out that you don't need a baseball fanatic on hand to answer questions every page (I think that there were about 5-10 words or ideas I needed to look up or ask about in the whole book.) It was more of a book about economics which is why it was so hard for me to put down. "The economics of baseball," you say, "a combination of two of the worlds most boring things!" But wait, there is a hidden allegory to dating in this book that is so engaging, and because Garth employs many of the same drafting strategies as Billy Beane, I am now happily married to a nice (discerning) fellow. But that came to me after I read and enjoyed the book for other reasons. Heads up that dugout language (including offensive words but not offensive topics) is quoted unedited in this book.
Freakanomics by Steven D. Levitt and Steven J. Dubner
The premise of this book is defined as, "if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work." I liked it because it provided another way to look at the world around us. Plus it also addresses questions such as "Should public school teachers receive raises based on the performance of their students?" and "What has caused the explosion of children named Britney, Kaitlynn, Madison (or some derivative thereof)?"

This book was really funny. Reading it was more entertaining/amusing than going to any movie I can recall or going iceblocking. That's probably because it was interesting as well as funny, and I liked it because some economics got left in it after all. It's a short, intelligent, entertaining book that makes you think about "the hidden side of everything," between laughing about it. Garth let me borrow it before we got married, but if we had broken up I would have bought myself a copy, even though it sadly is not in paperback yet. The thing I disagreed with most is the reason given for the decrease in crime in New York, because I subscribe to the "broken window theory," that Malcom Gladwell explains in Blink. The real reason was probably a combination of at least those two factors. But I thought even the stuff I disagreed with was still interesting. I think this book will be a lovely gift for interesting people when it goes paperback.
How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer
I felt that this book should have been titled "How Soccer Reflects the World Around It". I didn't really feel that the world was any better explained than it was before I read the book, but instead that soccer doesn't operate in an economic or political vacuum.

This book should probably just be on Garth's list because I stopped reading it with him after the third chapter. I guess the social commentary was not interesting enough for me to endure the hooligan violence. I think the net effect of my reading this book is my new attitude that pro-soccer and people associated with pro-soccer are mostly evil. I'm also saddened by the fact that soccer is the sport of the proletariat in the rest of the world, where it is more the sport of the bourgeoisie in the US because it is way, way too organized here. In Hong Kong (and for that matter, Brazil, Mexico, France, all over Africa and wherever) kids and adults play soccer on the street or in public parks all year for fun, but here you have to be on like a league and try-out and stuff. Oh well.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
I enjoyed reading the best selling novel of all-time. While I was reading the book, I had to get a medical examination and a drug test for my employment with the Postal Service. Thinking that I might have to wait a while before my exam, I brought this book with me. The worker who was going to administer my drug test saw that I had a copy of The Da Vinci Code with me and asked me what I thought of it. I mentioned that I as about 20 pages into it, so I didn't really know yet. Then the worker went out of his way to make sure that I knew that the book was fiction.

Although the main premise of this book that Christ was probably married does not offend me (in fact, it has seemed quite likely to me since way before this book), I am still extremely incredulous that His wife, descendants, and most loyal followers from a Jewish community in the Middle East would all become (one) European and (two) pagan(?!). This book was really, really exciting, but I was morally disturbed by some parts and although it took only a few hours to finish, I decided to forgo the temple trip we had planned for the afternoon on the day I finished it because I just didn't feel like going to the temple after reading this book, and to me that is a bad sign. Hey, that's just my opinion!

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
This book has a revolutionary premise that a bunch of not-quite random people (including a few dumb ones and a few smart ones) can come up with more accurate and/or effective solutions to questions and problems than a bunch of typical "experts" (well, we all know "experts" love to disagree anyway, but we often assume they know what they're talking about.) Surowiecki explains it better, but its really a radical idea. And then he just cites examples following the Gladwell template (see below). Neither of us have finished it and we bought it in April. So despite the really interesting premise, it's really not a very engaging book, that I can hardly read in chunks longer than 2 pages.

I actually haven't finished this book (and I have no desire to either), but here are my thoughts after 3 chapters: Surowiecki explains the premise in the first 5 pages, and then repeats that crowds are smarter than the lone expert/genius over the next 300.
Books Adria Read in the Last 1.5 Years:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Blink was probably my favorite of the two Gladwell books, because it seems like we don't give intuition enough credit in these days of "proving" stuff. Anyway, Malcom Gladwell makes things sound perhaps more interesting than they are, after all, his book is just a collection of anecdotal stories about how sometimes people knew more about something at first glance than they could deduce scientifically or otherwise, and a few tragic stories of how people's intuition misled them. Garth checked it out at the library for me, and I haven't rushed out to buy a copy, but I did reference themes and stories from it twice in sacrament talks. That's weird. It is a very widely acclaimed book though so don't get a ho-hum feeling about it from me, but read those other books I liked first.
Tipping Point by Malcolm Galdwell
Tipping Point was not written by someone who has very much experience with the LDS Church. I know at least a hundred each of mavens, connectors and salesmen (of smaller scale than he talks about in his book) but that part was a little underwhelming for me. Of course, you don't know what I'm talking about if you haven't read the book yet. Well, I'd read what Gladwell himself says about it and if it sounds interesting, give it a shot. Basically, he says things, "epidemics" (like trends in fashion, business and even popular books) get started and spread thanks to a certain combination of factors that might be called standard-so big trends can be "traced" or even anticipated or more importantly to him, started by design. Anyway, if Freakonomics is (for reference only) a 10 and The Wisdom of Crowds is a 1, Tipping Point is about a 5.
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
Now here is a book to recommend! This book is about nutrition, which I was not aware of when I saw the clip about it in the newspaper in the corner of my eye. I was interested in getting it because a book called "The China Study" no matter about what, would obviously be interesting to me. It could be about communism or something else political or social, or about education or population demographics or what have you- I mean China is such an interesting country-I bought this book with absolutely no idea it was about nutrition. Actually, this book is about the cure to cancer which might involve some simple and inexpensive measures that remarkably resemble the Word of Wisdom, but if you don't want your husband to die like other Americans (with our fancy technological health care that still lets us die of nasty things like colon cancer and deep vein thrombosis-yuck) you might be interested in taking a look. There was a personal resonance since one of my grandfathers died of recurring heart attacks, one grandmother died of lymphoma, the other grandmother died of Alzheimer's, and the surviving grandfather has a significantly reduced standard of living since having a heart transplant. Reading this book was like finding a buried treasure. At first I didn't like Campbell's narrative style, I mean I wanted to read a scientific paper, but later I could understand after a lifetime of writing well substantiated scientific reports and peer edited theses for Cornell University without anyone really noticing the import of it, how you'd just want to scream to the layman, "I did this for you!! My lifetime in academia was to save you from getting a nasty American disease, and no one cares because there's no money in it!!" Anyway, wow, I started to forgive the personal voice he used. I've been living by the theme of this book since spring break when I finished it, and I'd just like to say it wont kill you and it just might save you some expensive surgery in the future. I would recommend this book to anyone.
1491 by Charles C. Mann
This book was a really good read about what researchers are finding out about what the Americas were really like before Columbus. It's amazing how much of what we were taught in school is now changing. Contrary to the normal idea of Native Americans having a minimal influence on the environment, they actually were quite adept at changing the landscape and the animal distribution to benefit their huge communities. The author has obviously never actually read the Book of Mormon, because he references it as an implausible explanation for how the entire continents were originally populated, which I don't think most Book of Mormon scholars would agree with, nor what the book itself claims. Anyway, it was a really interesting collection of new research and not boring at all. Now I want to go to Bolivia and the Yucatan, the Peruvian Andes, etc. and see this stuff for myself. Great book. I've already bought it for a Christmas gift this year.
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

This book is a refreshing industrialist look at environmentalsim. If you see right through "reduce, reuse and recycle" there is a better way!! Who knew people that make stuff in the old-fashioned industrial revolutionist way have hearts? Well some of them. This book is utopian, I loved it, it made me want to go back to college (not many things make me want to do that) and become an industrial engineer (I guess being married to one will have to do for now)...

The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura
My mom gave this book to me for Christmas last year, which means I had been married for about 15 days at that point, but it seemed edgy so I read it that day. Basically, all I have to say is that Garth has no idea what Dr. Laura has done for him!! I can only stand listening to her on the radio like twice a year (I do occasionally listen to news radio in the car and she's sometimes on), but she ripped me apart in this book. She totally destroyed me. And that's really good, because I was still like 94% natural woman at the time and now I'm probably more in the 80's, which is good for Garth because the natural woman is (unlike the natural man) bipolar, resentful, annoying, unforgiving, unpredictable, irrational, unreasonable and insensitive (and Garth adds, crazy). Of course not to her friends, but poor husbands get no mercy, especially after they become husbands and it is not as essential to impress them. Anyway, the amazing thing is that the natural woman is totally ignorant of herself! So leave it to Dr. Laura who has seen thousands of marriages fall apart to expose the natural woman as the culprit. Anyway, the basic premise is that happily married men (we're talking the standard male package, not the crazies) don't have affairs, (or in other words, the woman who treats a stranger who knocks on her door at 3 am more considerately than her own husband should fear nicer women at her husbands office). I know that doesn't seem like a serious danger to women whose husbands have significant moral or religious deterents to being infidel, so for us the basic premise would be: the wife of an unhappily married man should be ashamed of herself. Why be ashamed? Well, because it is just so easy to keep the "standard male package" happy, and although the major reason for that is not selfish, if he is happy, he will pull down the figurative moon for his wife. So easy? Well, Dr. Laura has a whole book full of ideas but basically it boils down to being nice and making dinner. If that sounds too simple, read the book. If blaming women for failed marriages (like the husband cheats after 20 years or something-I mean think about that, why would a guy cheat after 20 years of a nurturing, loving relationship? Dr.L says it probably stopped being nurturing and loving after like one year) sounds too harsh, try being married, and simultaneously read the book. My recommendation is reading the book within 16 days of being married. I have tried to get many of my friends to read it, even think about reading it (I lent it out once for 6 months and it was never read, I had to take it back because I was moving) because it is so effective, but sadly, no one I know has, except my mom.
Books Garth Read in the Last 1.5 Years:

Fantasyland by Sam Walker
This book details the author's first season competing in an "expert" fantasy baseball league. It talks about the history of fantasy sports and the sometimes irrational behavior that it causes.
The Jump by Ian O'Connor
Details Sebastian Telfair's senior season of high school basketball and details the commercialization of basketball at the high school level as well as the influence of shoe companies. The documentary Through the Fire also recounts this time of Sebastian's life. This book takes a different light in view of recent events.
The Last Shot by Darcy Frey
Similar to The Jump, in that it involves high school basketball players who view basketball as their way out of the ghetto. This book spends more time on the struggles that the players face to academically qualify to be eligible to play college basketball and the college recruiting process than The Jump did. I think of it as a book version of the documentary Hoop Dreams. Coincidentally this book also involves Sebastian Telfair's cousin Stephon Marbury (who later would play in the NBA and is portrayed very negatively in The Jump).
Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
This book profiles the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers and the changes in the National Basketball Association that were taking place due to the developing influence of television as well as the personal lives of the players on the team.
Unfinished Business by Jack McCallum
This book profiles the 1990-1991 Boston Celtics.
Now I Can Die In Piece: How ESPN'S Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank, and the 2004 Red Sox by Bill Simmons
The book with the longest title in this list is a collection of Red Sox related columns that the Sports Guy wrote for ESPN (and for his website before he made the jump to the World Wide Leader in Sports) from 1999 through the 2004 World Series.
Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis
It seems that every time I mention that the subject of this book is professional Scrabble players that people snicker. This book examines the history of the game (including the game show that was hosted by Chuck Woolery) as well as looking at the nature of excellence as the author in his profiling of the Scrabble World Championships decides that he too, could become an expert Scrabble player.
Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam
A biography of Michael Jordan and how his celebrity was a creation of the rise of mass media.
The Cure by Nikolai Krementsov
A book that I read for a course on the history of Russian science. It is the story of a promising anti-cancer drug that was developed by two scientists in the Soviet Union and how politics and scientific turf wars hindered and eventually ended their research.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Another book that I read for the same history of Russian science course. This dytopian novel is considered to have started the genre and influenced Orwell's 1984.
Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
Profiles Bill Belichick and what has made him one of the top coaches in the National Football League.
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes (in progress)
I recently decided to read the first modern novel and am presently about half way through it. I have enjoyed it, although if reading a 1000-page novel might seem like a too monumental task, there are abridged versions out there too.
Wait Until Next Year by Mike Lupica and William Goldman
In this book a sports writer and the guy who wrote The Princess Bride take turns writing about various parts of their local teams seasons.

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